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At IDF Shanghai, Intel's vision of chips

In addition to processor-centric topics, Intel will use its developer forum in China to push its notion of a connection nirvana.

While the marquee processor theme at IDF Shanghai is "milliwatts to petaflops," Intel is also set to offer a vision of universal connectivity.

The main theme for the event, which starts Wednesday, Beijing time, refers to "very, very big to very, very small and low power," according to Pat Gelsinger, senior vice president and co-general manager of Intel's digital enterprise group, speaking in a video.

(See: Intel rolls out five new Atom processors.)

"Milliwatts" refers to chips such as Atom, a tiny low-power, low-cost processor destined for ultramobile devices and low-cost desktops typically running either Linux or Windows XP. The first Atom chips will launch in June.

"Petaflops" refers to high-performance computing--what used to be called supercomputing. ("Peta" is quadrillion, or a thousand trillion; "flop" is floating-point operation.) Intel is targeting petaflop supercomputers that would compete with the fastest supercomputer in the world: IBM's Blue Gene/P machines.

Though more technology and product details will certainly emerge in the next two days in Shanghai, the main chip themes are already out there. Gelsinger spelled them out at briefing earlier this month.

Intel Dunnington processor
The specs for Intel's Dunnington processor Intel

The chip buzzwords are: Tukwila, a new quad-core chip with 2 billion transistors, a whopping 30MB of cache, and a new interconnect technology called QuickPath; Dunnington, a six-core chip for multiprocessor computers that can support four or more processors (in this case, each with six cores); Nehalem, a follow-on to the current "Penryn" processors, it is a new 45-nanometer chip microarchitecture due in the fourth quarter that scales up to eight cores; and Larrabee, a visual-computing architecture that uses many cores ("many" usually means many more than a typical quad-core computer).

In addition to Atom, the processor spotlight will likely fall on Nehalem and Larrabee. Nehalem is a relatively known quantity; Larrabee, a relatively unknown quantity. So interest should focus on the latter.

Nehalem boasts increased parallelism, better branch prediction (to move instructions more quickly through the instruction pipeline), and an on-chip memory controller for increased memory performance--what Intel calls "memory latency reduction." Something, by the way, Advanced Micro Devices already has in its chips.

Larrabee is a graphics processor scheduled for the 2009-2010 time frame. It will include a new vector instruction set to improve the performance of graphics and video applications. Larrabee will be compatible with Intel's popular x86 instruction set, theoretically making life easier for software developers.

On another front, Intel is evangelizing universal connectivity, always a problematic proposition, simply because it invariably promises more (sometimes much more) than it can deliver. Intel puts it this way: "Imagine a day when a single device small enough to fit in your pocket...knows your tendencies and preferences and can adapt and optimize its interfaces to match what you are doing at any point any time...Imagine a day when this device...can dynamically become a hybrid combination of other computing and multimedia devices in close proximity." You get the picture. Intel calls this "Carry Small, Live Large."

On a slightly more practical level, the Cliffside technology is being demonstrated from the Mobile Products Group; it enables a single Wi-Fi adapter to function like two independent Wi-Fi adapters. The hope is that this technology could sync your MP3 and video files without a USB cable, directly and wirelessly connecting your notebook to your TV to view HD movies. More here.

There is also a demonstration of wireless device discovery and setup. This demonstration shows how to detect and connect to nearby wireless displays, using the familiar FnF7 (Function F7 key combination).

Click here for more stories on IDF Shanghai.